Beautiful Architecture Positively Affects Human Health

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Thursday, February 4th, 2016
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According to researchers at Warwick Business School in Coventry, UK, beautiful architecture has a positive impact on human health.

PhD student Chanuki Seresinhe, associate professor of Behavioural Science and Finance Tobias Preis, and associate professor of Behavioural Science Suzy Moat published their findings in a paper titled Quantifying the Impact of Scenic Environments on Health.

Their methodology involved showing study subjects photos from the web site “Scenic or Not,” a crowdsourced resource of more than 217,000 geotagged photos from across Great Britain. Participants were asked to rate each photo on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 indicating “very scenic,” and 1 indicating “not scenic.”

They then correlated the results with data on self-reported health from the 2011 Census.

“We find that inhabitants of more scenic environments report better health, across urban, suburban and rural areas,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “This result holds even when taking core socioeconomic indicators of deprivation, such as income, and data on air pollution into account.”

Though you might expect green spaces to garner all the top spots, that was not the case. Some photos graded as “unscenic” contained a large measure of green space, “though often with manmade structures that obstruct the view of the greenspace. The existence of such photographs provides initial evidence that the presence of green in an image is not sufficient for it to be considered scenic.”

The scenic nature of the local environment, rather than simply green space, better explains the differences in reports of health.

This raises the question: what is considered scenic? The authors visually inspected high-ranking and low-ranking photos, and concluded that those rated highly for scenicness “tend to contain landscapes with broad open areas and essentially no manmade structures,” while unscenic photos “appear to contain mostly manmade structures including roads, buildings and cars.”

The authors also evaluated the color composition of the photos and concluded that photos rated as most scenic do not contain the most areas of the color green, but also contain large areas of brown, blue, and gray.

“It seems that scenic environments can include large areas of water, open blue skies or mountainous landscapes,” they wrote. “Green areas congested with manmade objects such as buildings and roads may deter the enjoyment of greenspace and may cause a decrease in scenicness ratings.”

Surprisingly, though, some photos depicting manmade structures were rated as very scenic. According to Seresinhe, “as well as rating stunning natural landscapes as scenic, people also rated images of beautiful buildings and bridges as being scenic, especially in urban areas.”

Canary Wharf, London

Canary Wharf, London

Study participants rated a variety of urban scenes as scenic, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Canary Wharf, the O2 Arena, and Tower Bridge with the HMS Belfast in the foreground.

Not only did people rate some architecture and urban scenes as very scenic, scenicness plays a stronger role in health reporting than greenspace.

According to Seresinhe, “when we compared people’s reports of their health and the link with both greenspace and scenicness, we found that scenicness makes a bigger difference in how people feel about their health than greenspace. Interestingly, this holds in urban areas as well.”

The world’s greatest cities have embraced beautiful architecture for millennia, but without a strong sense that it was a practical endeavour. As Seresinhe noted, “the aesthetics of the environment may have more practical importance than previously believed. How we choose to design built-up areas might crucially impact our wellbeing.”

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